As a prior student-athlete who had the opportunity to play for and attend, both a predominantly white school (PWI) and historical black college/university (HBCU), I’ve always wondered why more Black athletes don’t push to go to HBCUs or even take interest in committing to one. This is a topic that has generated a lot of buzz and has the potential to be a great study. However, as interested as I am in knowing the cold facts behind this decision to not attend an HBCU as a Black/African-American and the “success-to-failure” ratio of those who do attend from those who don’t, I want this blog to solely serve as a discussion of emotions and opinions towards the subject matter.
I committed to Western Michigan University’s basketball program eight years ago, during the summer of 2010, and by Fall 2013 I had transferred and enrolled into Bethune-Cookman University. With a sense of redemption, I decided to commit to BCU Women’s Basketball program, where I ultimately would spend the next 5 years at; two of which I remained eligible to play, one I sat out, and the other two years I joined the coaching staff as the Graduate Assistant/Director of Operations.
I almost feel ashamed to say it, but the truth of the matter is, growing up I was totally ignorant and oblivious to HBCUs. I remember growing up, my mom always had ambitions of attending an HBCU and frequently expressed her desire for me to attend one too, but for whatever reason, it never resonated with me. To put into perspective just how oblivious I was; do you remember watching the movie Stomp the Yard with actors Columbus Short and Chris Brown and Nick Cannon’s film Drumline when it first came out? Both movie settings were centered around HBCUs. I’m not sure at which point I realized it was an HBCU, but I don’t believe it was until after my first year of college. Once again, I’m ashamed to admit it but I have to keep it real and hope that most of you reading this, in today’s “culturally awaken” society aren’t as oblivious as I was. The fact that I wasn’t recruited by any HBCUs didn’t help either. At the time of my commitment I had only one Division I offer and had a handful of colleges and universities interested, so to say the least I wasn’t the top most recruited athlete coming out of Michigan. My options were limited to choose from, and if I had a couple of offers from HBCU programs, I would like to think I would have committed to one. I now know that the reason for that is, because at the time a lot of HBCUs did not waste their time recruiting players they felt they couldn’t compete with other mid-major and BCS programs over. Times have shifted a little, there are more HBCU programs recruiting elite players, but this reason to not recruit certain players still remains relevant. Which is why I commend BCU women’s basketball coaching staff, they aren’t afraid of rejection, they know what they bring to the table, and know that if they recruit the #1 player in the country, that the only reason they may get rejected, is because the recruit doesn’t know what they bring to the table.
It took for some tough circumstances to shift my collegiate career over to an HBCU, but deep down in my heart, I know that my tough transition happened for a reason and those circumstances served as a greater purpose that at the moment weren’t so evident. It’s funny how fate plays out sometimes. One thing for sure is that if I had not transferred to BCU and developed the many relationships I did, I do not know where I would be right now, but I know I wouldn’t be where I am now. The level of opportunities that I have reaped from surrounding myself around the right people and attending a school that has all the right tools put in place for anyone to succeed, be it they choose to use them, is more than I could have ever imagined. Here’s to painting a picture for you of keeping things in perspective, I went from sitting in a small business class of 20 students, and one of maybe 3 other black students who ironically blended in as to not exist at WMU, to existing as an academically inclined standout in a class of 10-15 students at BCU. With this feeling of existence, I was able to develop relationships, with not only my professors and advisors, but with some of the most powerful advocates of the university, like the Vice President of Student Affairs, faculty members of the registrar’s office, board of trustee members and even the president of the school. Most student athletes don’t even have a relationship with their Athletic Director, nor Senior Woman Administrator, let alone their compliance department, where they go to sign their scholarship, meal plan, and various other things. Maybe, if you’re the ‘hotshot’ on the team you have these connected relationships, but if not, then I’m guessing you haven’t even stepped foot in either of these people’s offices unless needed. I’m not saying this to be demeaning or negative, this is coming from a place, that as a former player at a PWI, I had no idea who these people were, and didn’t think that I was important enough to know them. There has been many doors of opportunities that have presented itself to me because of who I knew and not what I knew. AND also because of who I knew that was willing to help build me up, and not just who I knew; know the difference between the two.
Many student-athletes commit to colleges and universities with the hopes and aspirations to eventually go pro and play on the biggest stage there is of their respective sports. We all know that the number of student-athletes who go on to further their career as a professional athlete is at a staggering low. So what happens to the young woman or man who specifically commits to a school just for the exposure, and [lets be real] the name of the university that will put them in the best position to fulfill that dream of going pro, but falls short of reaching that? What happens when they fall short, and the school they decided to commit to developed them as a player, but not as a young adult, and certainly not as a young Black/African-American, and not as a young professional seeking advancement in the workforce or Corporate America? Ok so you go to this particular university for the development as a elite player, and then what happens when your professional career is over? So many athletes go broke after their career is over, not only because of their financial illiteracy, but because they never surrounded themselves with people who were willing to help develop them further than just an athlete.
The unequal pay among female athletes and male athletes is a topic within itself, but I cringe my teeth at the amount of hustle female athletes who make it to the WNBA put into playing two seasons in the United States and overseas. After so many years of wear and tear on your body, no love for the game is going to keep you motivated enough to keep up with that non-stop physical hustle. You see it more now, but surrounding yourself around people who are willing to build you up, means showing you how to make investments that will generate wealth outside of your physical ability to run up and down the court. WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces star, A’ja Wilson, is proving herself to be a pioneer and advocate for women sports and equality/equal pay, and I love that she has been able to surround herself with the right group of people, that have started her off in a career in broadcasting/commentating after just one season removed from her rookie debut season.
As a former student-athlete, I can tell you that the biggest things that shape the decision of a commitment to a university’s or college’s athletic program, is the appearance and presence of the campus, the luxuries of a locker room, the gear and swag of the team, the fan attendance of games, the name of the school, the head coach associated with the school, and whatever dream that they fill your head up with while being recruited. So, in essences bragging rights and for the most part, student-athletes looking to transition from their inner city environments to a prestige college/university, is what shapes most athletes’ decision. Focusing on fans in general and not the handful of loyal fans, that will stay true regardless of the team’s record, fans will follow any successful program. And with more top rated prospects committing and producing at HBCUs, with the attraction of success will draw more fans, which will draw more money, which will draw more donors, which will draw better facilities and programs, which will draw an increased demand of excellence expected from head coaches and their supporting staff, that will then produce some household named coaches at HBCUs. Know that a program can always be changed around, but it starts with the willingness of those who have the power to change it.
Prospect athletes decision should be predicated on every aspect of their future and not just the limelight they are seeking from the schools reputation. When you take a visit pay attention to who you are meeting, and how personable the people you are meeting are. The difference in my official visit at BCU and every single player that is recruited by BCU, is that I met everyone on that campus that would play a huge role in my academic career and basketball career. I met with the Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics (AD), I met with the entire compliance department, so if I ever had a question about my scholarship, meal plan, rooming assignment, or eligibility, I knew who to go to directly. I met with the strength and conditioning coach, who focuses on exploiting each and every athletes strengths and not just tailoring a workout based on the group as a whole. Instead of just meeting with the student-athlete academic advisors, BCU went the extra mile to set a meeting up with the advisors and dean of the program I was actually interested in, and when I tell you that if it was not from the relationships and bonds I had with them, I would not have graduated. True story: the last semester prior to graduation I realized that one of my credits from WMU did not transfer over and the class that I needed to take, they weren’t offering my last spring semester, so essentially I would have to wait until the next fall semester to take it and graduate. But because of the personable relationships I had with several of my professors, advisors, and dean, we were able to get a petition signed with other students in similar situations to open the class that spring semester, and I was able to graduate on time. Just in terms of the BCU/HBCU experience, I met with so many people that ultimately have a hand in the program, and played a role in my collegiate career in some shape or form, literally from someone as small as the cafeteria staff, you meet on a visit, you never know how important knowing them are until, you’re hungry and have either went to the cafe once it was closed and they still let you in or when you have an early morning workout and the cafe isn’t open, but they will keep it open a little longer because they understand your situation. Somehow or way on the visit, BCU manages to get you to talk with past athletes, because it is so important to see what products come from the program, long after your eligibility and athletic career is over.
This blog was not to tear down PWIs, it was just simply to shine a light on HBCUs that others have continuously tried to pull away. What I am getting at, is you have to build your circle of impact people at your university, those are your real resources. You are more than just an athlete, so pick a university/college based on your complete development as an individual, and not from what you can just do with the ball in your hand.